Notes from the Nukkad

Abstract May 04, 2020

Political-activist, playwright, actor and poet Safdar Hashmi was murdered while
performing a street play in 1989. Independent India saw turbulent times. The government was confused about the way forward and riots were more common than the flu. The anti-fascist movement had peaked, and chaos was overpowered by suppression. Within this context, street plays gained immense popularity as a tool for free expression. What was it about this raw form of theatre that reached out to the masses? What makes street plays shake the audience to their core and leaves performers yearning for more? How do street plays achieve what they do?

The orchestrating of a street play is a beautiful metamorphosis of desire into an educating, gleeful gig that makes for a definite craving. The sense of responsibility
ignited from within the performers delivers impeccable showmanship, and ensures the coherent delivery of an unaddressed evil.

Street plays capitalise on their inadequacy for production, promotion and permission
to become highly used mediums in addressing volatile and often controversial issues.
They are used extensively throughout the world to educate people, especially those who don’t have access to this information owing to lack of opportunity, social stigma or upbringing. Street plays connect with people directly. There is no screen, stage or
economic barrier that separates the audience and the performers. The audience engages through audio, visuals and sensation of the sound vibrations—it is a whole,
wholesome experience to participate in. As long as there exist streets, there will exist
street plays.

Let me take you on the journey of making a street play, from ideation to performance.

It all begins with a cause, which takes the form of some societal evil prevailing around us. It may not resonate with all the team members at first. It might just be shrugged off. But once we mull over it, realisation dawns upon us. This realisation comes in two phases. The first is the identification of the evil itself, and the second is
the surprise of its abundant presence. This evil seems trivial until we force ourselves to think, to identify and confront it.

This cause stirs people. It agitates some. More have been victims. Almost everyone is a bystander. Regardless of how disconnected we feel towards the cause, we all are variables in its equation. Further scrutiny enables us to identify the root of it. Subsequently, when a little more clarity is obtained, this rollercoaster enters the
thrilling loop, saying buh-bye to the preceding slow ascent. The scripting is initiated
and all other day-to-day activities become reduced to a blur. The only pictures running through our heads are the scenes, the choreography, and the message.

Be prepared to whip out your pen while dozing in a lecture, immediately turning to
the back of the book and scribbling the treasured “idea”. Be prepared to wake up in the middle of the night to the ringtone of your phone, with your colleague letting the dam of thoughts burst open. The journey has become more tiring than anyone thought. Thoughts are inevitable. New notions whizz through the mind and times
come when it is weary beyond imagination, and imagination ceases to stretch its
wings.

Over time, opinions are formed, a deeper understanding is formulated and the motion to confront becomes more personal. Every one of us now feels and formulates
opinions on the topic. It’s not easy, I tell you. It takes courage and grit to have an opinion. The process is fatiguing and long. It thoroughly tests. By the end, the team is a master of their chosen topic.

High conviction with a sheer sense of purpose defines us. We have taken upon ourselves a responsibility to educate the unaware, innocently point out the sinners, and ignite a fire in the onlookers. These are exhaustive times replete with arguments, frustration, conflicting opinions, creative blocks, mental exhaustion, sweat, and occasional tears. The mind is in fury. Sessions, whether brainstorming, writing, or the setting of the performance start taking a toll on the team–mentally, physically and emotionally. After what seemed like an eternity, the play is ready. Something worth telling, something not addressed is itching to be heard. The performances await us with eager anticipation. We are ready and maybe the world isn’t, but that’s exactly why the time is right.

The audience never knows when they’re in for a treat. One moment they are relishing
a gola at Chowpatty, and the next moment their indulgence is interrupted by a group
of 10, loudly singing their favourite jingle. Humour, wit, over-the-top drama, comical
metaphors and things-you-don’t-talk-about are popular and delightful elements in the show. Every second of the performance has something unexpected. It is loaded with so much meaning and melodrama that you can’t take your eyes off. The degree of our expressions induces feelings of joy, grief, anger and love in you.

We appear, we perform. You understand, you feel, you empathise. And suddenly we
are gone. Our sounds will have ended in ten minutes, but the vibrations will live on
forever. Our message shall carry on in the hearts of people. We are proud of ourselves. The self-taken responsibility has been honoured with pride and dignity, for it takes courage to stand up to wrongdoing. We have initiated a little revolution of our own with the hope that maximum people will join us in our cause. Applause and
acknowledgement of this endeavour leaves us hungry for more, and you can count on
us to be back.

– Shlok Sampat

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